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New UMD President Steps Into The Job Amid Crisis

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Leading a university is challenging when times are good. Now imagine stepping into the job in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis with nationwide protests after your predecessor left under a cloud involving the death of a student athlete. That's the situation Darryll Pines is in. His first day as president of the University of Maryland is July 1, and he joins us now to talk about approaching these challenges.

Welcome. Thanks for being here.

DARRYLL PINES: Thank you for having me, Ari. I look forward to speaking with you.

SHAPIRO: So the fall semester at UMD starts August 31, just two months after your first day on the job. What should students expect in terms of in-person versus online classes, dorm life, extracurricular activities? What's it going to be like?

PINES: So it will be a mixture of online and in-person. We still haven't worked out all the details. But what we do know is that from surveying our student population, they really want to be back on campus. And like many institutions, we are working through the details of sorting that out - how many students will be in the dormitory, how many students will be in a given classroom, ensuring that social distancing is met, that they're wearing masks and that we're making sure that we mitigate any public health risk to them and to everyone else in the community.

SHAPIRO: You know, many college students around the country are demanding a cut in tuition and fees because they're not getting what they consider the full college experience. And at the same time, this financial crisis has had colleges, too. Are you planning on reducing costs for students?

PINES: In the spring, we had some challenges going immediately - within one week - to online. It probably wasn't the smoothest of transitions, but now we've had time to sort of rethink through how we would enhance the delivery of that education to our students. So I think the students will get a really high-quality experience that will, you know, not have these questions of tuition coming up.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying no discount.

PINES: Well, we are saying that we're paying the same faculty to deliver the same kinds of experiences that they would get whether we're in-person or online.

SHAPIRO: On top of the pandemic and the economic crisis, students have been very active in the protests around racism and police violence. What role do you see the University of Maryland playing in that conversation?

PINES: We've embraced Black Lives Matters (ph) on our campus as a call to action. And even while we're in this pandemic, there have been many signs of positive engagement by our community, both in social media and also in thought leadership.

SHAPIRO: Of course, these protests are about more than just policing. They're more broadly about the value of black lives. And as I mentioned, your predecessor left after a 19-year-old student named Jordan McNair died of heatstroke during spring conditioning drills. Do you see the death of a student athlete as part of the conversation the country is having now about racism and the value of black life more broadly?

PINES: I think the loss of any student life on any campus is tragic. I lived through three losses of life in the most recent years on this campus. Each one was tragic for different reasons. However, I believe because the University of Maryland have gone through some of these unfortunate tragic deaths of our students, we have improved our health and wellness for our student athletes as it relates to them playing sports here on our campus. So I think we are ahead in some of the recommendations and measures to improve the health and wellness of student athletes.

SHAPIRO: I'm guessing that if I had asked you six months ago to describe what a successful first year in this job would look like, you might have said something different from today. When you look now at what the next year has in store, how would you define success?

PINES: You know, when I was chosen and I had my news conference on February 14 earlier this year - it was Valentine's Day - and at that time, there was not a pandemic. And at that time, there was no social unrest in the country and in the world. But I get particular comfort from one of Martin Luther King's famous quotes, which is "the ultimate measure of a man is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy."

So this is the time that we're in. And what better place to have impact than higher education, where one of our public research goals is to serve the public good on behalf of all humanity? And this reemphasizes that. This virus reemphasized that, and the social justice that is going on today reemphasizes that as well.

SHAPIRO: Darryll Pines is the incoming president of the University of Maryland.

Thank you for talking with us.

PINES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAG'S "LABRADOR (ENCORE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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